PEBBLE BEACH — We live in a video world these days, with YouTube and Instagram and Twitter showing us everything from violent protests in Hong Kong, to the musings of O.J. Simpson, to Patrick Reed snapping a wedge over his knee during the second round of this year’s U.S. Open.
Pictures, though, still tell the story.
Which explains why each day this week at Pebble Beach Golf Links, David Cannon arrives on the property by 5:30 a.m. (a couple of hours later on the weekend) to formulate his plan for how to cover the U.S. Open. He’s a journalist and a storyteller, but instead of a pen, his brush is a camera, which he’ll use to provide photographs for Getty Images, an international photo service whose pictures will be splashed across the Internet, newspapers and magazines across the globe.
Remember the shot of Jack Nicklaus raising his putter on the 17th hole during the final round of the 1986 Masters? That was Cannon’s, a veteran photographer attending his 119th major this week. Augusta National, he says, is his favorite place to photograph golf because it produces the nicest pictures.
Pebble Beach ain’t that bad, either, even if the sun has barely come out during the four competition days—a photographer’s peeve—on the Monterey Peninsula.
“It’s the ocean,” says the 63-year-old Englishman, while peering down at the seventh green below. “It’s like a magnet around here.”
The ninth hole, with Carmel Beach in the distance, is Cannon’s favorite hole to photograph, though. “Most of the field isn't going to drive it over the crest of the hill,” he notes. “So it’s been brilliant.”
The 14th has some nice shots to be had as well, he adds. There’s 17 and 18, of course. But it’s the combination of the scenery and the person that Cannon seeks to combine with the eye of an artist and technical skill of a mechanic.
“Tiger, Rory” he says when asked his favorite subjects to shoot this week. “You go for the big names, the ones that have personalities, too. Garcia, Stenson, Fleetwood. I’m a bit biased toward the Europeans; I think they have more character. It comes out in the pictures. Martin Kaymer at the top of his backswing with a driver, the club bends like no one I’ve seen since Hogan.
“People who wear decent clothes, too. But the hats irritate me. A lot of my best pictures came in the ’80s when they didn’t wear hats. Ballesteros, Nicklaus, Norman—he wore a big hat but you could always see his eyes. You don’t get that now. They get paid too damn much for those logos.”
Besides golf, Cannon has shot all manner of sport, from the World Cup, to boxing, to the Olympics. His endless journeys have taken him to more than 150 countries.
“I worked it out the other day that in my career I’ve walked from about London to Auckland, New Zealand, in the tournaments I've covered,” he said.
Cannon’s love affair with golf—he still covers 20-25 tournaments annually—started on the other side of the lens, however, when as a young boy in Leicestershire, England, his dad gave him a cut-down 3-wood. He progressed to a high amateur level—he still recalls the first time he saw Nick Faldo in the 1975 British Youths—but never beyond. That’s when he got a break. Asked by a playing partner one day to shoot some photos for a local magazine, the images were published the following week, and Cannon was hooked. From there, his father introduced him to Neville Chadwick, who ran the photo side of a news service in Leicester. His first assignment was a rugby game in the 1970s.
The rest was history. Which is exactly what the dean of golf photographers has captured throughout the decades and will this week at the U.S. Open.
Among his favorite photographs is a portrait he took of Seve Ballesteros at home in Spain, where Ballesteros cut a hole in the ground with a tin can and attached a handkerchief to a stick for a makeshift flag like he used to do when he was a kid. Also memorable was the private photo book that Tiger asked him to put together following his victory at this year’s Masters.
This week at Pebble Beach, there’s a good chance Cannon will likely produce the lasting image of whoever raises the trophy on Sunday. No easy task in an age when any idiot with an iPhone can take a great picture. Still, getting all the pretty and iconic photos takes skill, experience and hard work beyond the mindless effort of pushing a button on a phone.
Each day, Cannon will log some 20,000 steps and snap roughly 2,000 photos—in the pre-digital days, he’d produce maybe 10 rolls of 350 pictures for the entire week—all while lugging a rig of three cameras, various lenses, filters, food and water that weighs nearly 50 pounds. By week’s end, his body will be feeling as wary as any player hitting the shots he’s trying to capture, which is why he wears a back support and does a daily stretching routine to keep his 6-foot-4 frame limber.
Pebble Beach itself also poses another problem. As one of the most photographed golf courses in the world, part of Cannon's challenge is to come up with something fresh and unique. One way he hopes to do that is by using a camera that allows him to take five frames a second in silence—if there’s one thing golfers hate, it’s a camera click in their backswing—which should provide some new angles.
“It’s giving us some different options,” Cannon says. “You can click away whenever you like. You could be close up and hit the button. It’s the future.”
The present, meanwhile, offers plenty of proof that still photos are still powerful.
Earlier this month, Kawhi Leonard hit a Game 7 buzzer-beater against the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA playoffs that bounced around the rim four times before falling in. Toronto Star photographer Rick Madonik captured the moment, with Leonard squatting down, tongue out, watching and waiting for the shot to drop. The shot is full of emotion and information, and it immediately went viral.
This week at Pebble Beach, Cannon will aim to produce a photograph of similar impact, the way he has for decades. Like any good storyteller, the goal is always the same.
“To capture a moment that’s going to be remembered by people,” Cannon said. “What we’re doing is capturing split seconds of life. If you can make a beautiful picture, that’s what we do.”